SLA 2013 Reflections: The Conference

16 Jul

The first in my series of write ups of SLA 2013 focuses my experiences of the overall conference programme; the sessions, and events attended.

In the weeks leading up to the conference I was able to use an online conference planner to find out what sessions and events were planned.  My first observation was the volume of sessions and the comparatively small space of time they were crammed into. Every day of the programme offered a lot of choice, everything from breakfast business meetings to panel sessions and interactive workshops. There were even some of those old school style speaker and a PowerPoint type things.  Navigating my way through all of the choices seemed like a challenge at first however the online planner was great as I was able to build my own personal schedule for the event.  Though of course I didn’t really stick to that at all choosing instead to pick sessions as I went along. Recommendations from others and reading tweets during the event were really useful in making these decisions.


There were huge conference sessions…

I went to some amazing sessions and some rubbish sessions, as is the way with conferences.  You never know what it will actually be and how good the speaker will be until you get started.  As a result I attended a lot of sessions but not a lot of complete sessions.  At US conferences it is acceptable to switch between sessions at any time.  I found myself doing this a lot, partly because I could and partly because too many potentially interesting things were happening at once.  Session hopping has downsides though.  It was great to be able to leave sessions that weren’t overly interesting or living up to expectations but arriving part way through a session can make it hard to understand exactly what is going on. I found there was a lack of focus in the room, which was perhaps due to a flow of people coming and going.  Session switching is definitely an interesting and useful concept though, especially when you are in a session that you don’t think you are getting anything out of.

There were small sessions too

There were smaller sessions too!

My favourite sessions were:

Alongside the conference sessions was a varied and busy programme of social and networking events. These were often hosted by specific divisions however were generally open for anyone to attend.  For me these events were the best part of the conference. As presentation and panel sessions can often be very specific it is sometimes hard to feel properly engaged but networking events are great opportunities for learning and building contacts. I took the advice of my mentor Neil to heart and attend as many as possible.  One evening I attended 5 different social events, namely The Canadian Reception, Solo Librarians Open House, International Reception, Legal Division event and the IT Dance Party.  At all of these events I was able to engage with people, discuss various topical issues and build up a network of contacts.  Even the IT Dance Party provided opportunity to get to know people; it was especially good for getting to know people in more social context.  I’ll write more about this aspect of the conference in Part 2: People.

I’m not going to write about the exhibition hall as I didn’t feel I had much to talk to any vendors about.  I did enjoy the wide range of vendors and absorbed quite a lot of awareness about various organisations and services though which could be useful in the future.

There is so much more that I could write about however for now that is the broad overview of my reflections concerning the actual conference itself.


SLA 2013 Reflections: Where to Begin?

15 Jul

In June 2013 I was lucky enough to travel to San Diego to attend the 2013 Annual Special Libraries Association conference as an Early Career Conference Award (ECCA) winner. The experience was truly epic in every sense of the word; an 11 hour flight, 18 hour days, thousands of people, over 200 events and a conference centre stretching across more than 8 street blocks. Everything about the experience was massive and overwhelming but absolutely amazing.


Now that I’ve been back for a month (or so) I’ve have had time to digest it all and distil the experience down. I’m writing up by splitting my reflective writing into four parts;

I’ve also been busy writing up my reflections for various other blogs and journals.  A conference report can be found in the July edition of the CLSIG Journal. I’ve written a piece for the SLA Europe Blog so look out for that in the future, as well as a report for the Business and Finance Division Bulletin.

The challenge is trying to work out what to write and what to leave out.  There is so much I could say, so much I’d love to capture in writing so I don’t forget it all in the future.  The experience of being an ECCA and attending a conference of this scale is so mind boggling and overwhelming, so it’s hard to condense my thoughts down into neat reflections.

Conference Season has Landed

31 May

The arrival of the summer season might not mean guaranteed sunshine, picnics and beer gardens for the British librarian but it does mean conference time. Summer tends to be packed with conferences of all shapes and sizes .  Summer means finding a way to attend conferences without bankrupting myself. This year I’ve been really lucky as I’ve bagged myself sponsored places at two of the big summer library conferences; SLA2013 in June and CILIP’s Umbrella conference in July.

I gained my place at this years SLA conference by applying for the SLA Europe Early Career Conference Award.  I had no expectation of winning this one because I’ve applied a couple of times before with no joy, but I don’t give up on dreams so poured a lot of energy into making this years application the best one yet.  Next week I will be on the other side of the world with a lot of amazing information people which is slightly terrifying but very exciting.  I’ve known about the trip for a couple of months now but I don’t think it has sunk in as reality yet even though I’ve worked through the online conference planner and made plans for meetings with mentors and others whilst there.

My funded place at Umbrella has come about thanks to my involvement in the Commercial, Legal and Scientific Information Group (CLSIG), which is a CILIP special interest group.  Last year I started attending committee meetings to become more involved in a professional body, and earlier this year I was offered opportunity to take on the role of secretary.  My fellow committee members were kind enough to select me to attend the conference on behalf of the group, in return for representing and promoting CLSIG at the event.

Sponsored places are the only way I can attend conferences because I have no money and my employer isn’t going to send me to any events because I don’t really work in a library anymore. So I’m extremely thankful such opportunities exist and even more thankful that this year I’ve been given more than one.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; APPLY FOR EVERYTHING!

Unemployed Librarian

18 Feb

I recently attended a library workshop organised by a CILIP special interest group.  To begin we had to go round the room introducing ourselves, including where we were from.  It was mainly university library staff with some library school students (who also all had employers too) and a couple of public librarians too. Then we came to my turn to speak;

“Hi I’m Laura. I’m not from any organisation as I’m unemployed at the moment”

Not my greatest professional moment. Although I’ve put on brave face and kept up a positive persona, at that moment I wanted to run for the door.

For most even the shortest  spell of unemployment can cause stress about money and the future, leading to depression and feelings of low self-worth.  Not having a job slowly chips away at your soul when you love your career and what you do. The last few years of my life have been almost wholly defined by my career in libraries and information.  Our jobs construct a large proportion of our identity. For me being a librarian is about more than just the job however the longer you don’t have a job the harder it becomes to identify as a librarian.  It’s easy to fall down the route of depression and self-pity but thankfully I survived my short period of unemployment with the help of the following strategies.

  • Structure – One of the hardest things about not having a job is often the lack of structure and routine. I found it easiest to treat job hunting like a regular 9-5 job with a lunch hour.  Although it didn’t always work perfectly it helped to set an alarm for the same time everyday and to take a lunch break away from my computer.  I always walked to and from work, so I started my day with a short walk to put myself in the right frame of mind whilst job hunting at home.
  • Flexibility – To succeed in finding a job readjustment of your plans might be required. Compromise is likely to be important especially if you’ve been out of work for a while or don’t have the luxury of being able to take your time to find the next dream job.  You may not need to compromise but I recommend thinking about what area you would be willing to compromise on.  If you can’t move for a job then you might want to broaden your search criteria to include non-traditional roles or non-traditional environments. Or if your heart is set on working in particular sector then think about how far you are willing to relocate.  The dream for me would have been an information related role in Liverpool as that’s the type of work I love, in the city I love. Unfortunately as that is unlikely to happen anytime soon, it has been a choice between the location or the job.  My compromise has been letting go of specific ambitions about a ‘dream’ job for the chance to live in a ‘dream’ city.   I was offered a great job but the location wasn’t right so I turned it down because I knew I wouldn’t be happy. In the end I’ve found a job I’d never considered before which offers the chance to live in a city that I’ve always wanted to move to.
  • Positivity – Positivity is required to survive unemployment. Unemployment makes everything seem bleak. The lack of jobs. Putting everything into applications only to never hear anything.  Rejection emails. Having no money. Visiting the job centre. It is all quite rubbish but finding small ways to stay positive helps a lot.  Volunteer to gain new skills or take up a new hobby to fill your time when not applying for jobs.  Anything that helps give back a little self-worth will help in the job hunt.  Remember that you never know what is just around the corner. A week ago I was filling in my job seekers book and feeling depressed about the fact I hadn’t even been paid job seekers allowance for all my troubles yet.  Now I have a job to start next week.

I won’t sugar coat the reality. Unemployment has been a rather rubbish experience.  I’ve only had to do this for 6 weeks, and I’m aware others have it a lot worse, but it has felt like a very long time.  Tomorrow I will send my job seekers allowance book back to the job centre and hope to never have to explain to the staff there that a librarian does more at work than give people books.

Good luck to anyone reading who is struggling with unemployment at the moment. I hope there is something good just around the corner for you.

A Never Ending Job Hunting Cycle

30 Jul

Job hunting seems to be never-ending cycle.

In my experience the job hunting cycle goes something like this:

1) Relief – being offered a job
2) Joy – enjoying the new job
3) Worry – uncertainty of what next and when best to start looking for the next job
4) Panic – over the lack of jobs to apply for and the lack of response to applications submitted
5) Suspense – waiting to hear back applications and interviews

I don’t know for sure, but based on some loose assumptions, it seems that fixed term work and short-term contracts are the employment situation faced by many new professionals (and all job seekers at the moment!).  These opportunities are great as they mean lots of variety in the early stages of a career but job security can be a big disadvantage.

Jobcentre Plus by J J Ellison

When I was at library school stressing about finding a job, I somewhat naively thought that once I was employed the worry about job hunting would end. Since graduating and finding a job I’ve discovered that the worry doesn’t go away. At least not for those who only secure employment on a fixed term contract.

To give some background to my employment situation I started job hunting about halfway through the MA course.  I didn’t plan on looking so early but I found myself caught up in the general panic and stress of my peers about the job market. After a lot of disappointment and panic about unsuccessful applications over the summer during my dissertation I was offered a job the day after handing in my dissertation. Perfect timing but there is always a catch with a great situation.

Initially I was only employed on a 6 month contract so not long after starting I found myself worrying about what my next job would be and more importantly when I should start looking for it. Unfortunately my job hunting was fruitless, but fortunately I was kept on for another 6 months. Having another 6 months of work lined up was a huge relief but in light of the failure of my previous job hunting efforts, it was not long before I started to worry about finding another job.  A new opportunity arose at work that I was able to apply for meaning I am now contracted until the end of 2012.  Time seems to be rapidly passing however and job hunting is once again on my mind.

For now I’m able to focus my job seeking efforts on opportunities that fit with my interests and aspirations as I’ve got the security of a job until the end of the year. However  I’m dreading December appearing out of nowhere and being in a position where I haven’t been able to find the next job move that I really want, and needing to resort to the apply for anything and everything approach which is not ideal.  I’m not specifically looking for a permanent position although I’m starting to think that a break from the worry about where the next job will come from could be quite nice.

I hate job hunting.

Achieving Your Goals

31 May

Last week I attended an excellent training course offered through the Learning and Development department at work.  Achieving Your Goals was focused on taking ownership and control of the future, and was provided by a fantastic facilitator from a company called Fairplace Ceader.

Some of the aims of the course were:

  • Increase self awareness of the options and choices available.
  • Be able to identify values and motivations that are important in life.
  • Identify the skills and competencies needed to get to where you want to be.
  • Understand how people achieve career success.

The course was split into 3 key sections; identifying what is important to your career, identifying where your career is going, and finally the intangibles of career success focusing on understanding how to be career smart. The course was extremely intense and demanded a lot of participation from the group.  Much of the day was spent working on activities with a partner or in a small group, so trust and a willingness to be open with others was essential to get the most out of the course.

During the course we did lots of practical exercises as a means of developing a strategy for achieving our goals.  Practical activities such as writing how our CV will look in 5 years time and then creating an action plan of steps to get there, and thinking of a person whose career we aspire to have and then discussing what made that person might have to done to achieve their goals.

The first task of the day was the one I enjoyed the most.  We were asked to pick a postcard from a selection that most represented where we saw ourselves in our career.  I greatly enjoyed the task and found it to be an excellent starting point for the day.  If we had started with the facilitator asking us to just talk about our current situation I doubt I would have produced such an insightful and analytical response.  Having an image to read something into made the task a lot more accessible.

This was the postcard I selected:

I was able to find quite a lot of meaning within this image to symbolise the current state of my career.  The birds in flight are my career.  I feel like things are taking off for me career wise however I don’t know where I am headed or where to land.  Each bird is flying on a different course representing the numerous possibilities currently open to me.  This is a positive interpretation in many ways which surprised me.  The last couple of years have felt uncertain and stressful career wise however I am finally starting to feel like I am headed somewhere.  The only potential negative is the uncertainty about where my career is going in the short term future.

One of the most beneficial tasks of the day was a skills assessment.  We were each given a pack of skills cards and not very much time to place them on to a grid to indicate both how much we enjoyed using that skills and how competent we viewed ourselves. After all the cards were placed we had chance to review our decisions and gain understanding of our skill set.  I was able to really question whether I am actually better than I initially think at some things, as well as identify what it is important to improve on.

Overall the course was hugely beneficial.  I arrived with no strategy or toolkit for the future.  I went home with a better understanding of where I currently am and how I can work towards the places I want to be.